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Search for true democracy

The Veddah Chief, Uru Warige Wannila Aththo, has also called for a general election. With all the nonsense taking place in the Parliament these days, a general election is all the people must want in the hope of getting a good government to face up to the many issues caused by the economic crisis the country has been forced

into.But can a snap general election really help solve the problems of bad and corrupt governance that is the reality in Sri Lanka? Not very likely. The current electoral system introduced by JRJ, under the Executive Presidency, is one that is far away from the core values of democracy. Sri Lanka is in reality far away from the principles and values of democracy today, although we claim to be a democratic state.

What has happened to the democratic system, which began 74 years ago, is the twists of the democratic process caused by the removal of the Civil Service by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government, and the introduction of presidential rule by JRJ, who said that all he could not do under his system of governance was to change a man into a woman and vice versa!

The electoral system that we have is one that has enabled a candidate, leader of the UNP – Ranil Wickremesinghe – who saw all candidates of the party, including himself, defeated in the last general election, become the Executive President of the country with the help of a vote in parliament. He replaced President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was elected by 6.9 million voters, and resigned due to mass protests. How could an unelected MP appointed via the National List become the successor to a President with such a huge popular vote?

This is the system that needs urgent change with the unwanted reality of having a Ranil-Rajapaksa President, even after the next general election many in the county are calling for in desperation; following the corruption that prevails in today’s SLPP majority government, but with no certainty that the Ranil-Rajapaksa corruption would finally end.

What we need is a good, non-corrupt general election. The next election responding to the Veddah Chief and so many others, will hardly be one that is corruption free. There is so much talk of the political parties in parliament coming together for many goals of the Ranil-Rajapaksa presidency. The voting strength of the SLPP is preventing any such unity. We now see that the present Parliament does not even want to reappoint the COPE and COPA Committees, headed by Opposition members. That is where democracy stands today in Sri Lanka.If the parties in parliament could come together to muster a majority, the biggest need is to bring in the necessary changes to the electoral system that will help restore and revive democracy.

Let’s look at the absurdities that prevail in the parliamentary process today. Election of MPs from districts, and not electorates, makes most elected MPs have no electoral links to the voters. It costs several millions of rupees to be spent by political parties and candidates to seek election. This is the very beginning of corruption in our electoral process.

The electoral law should be urgently changed to have MPs elected from electorates (and not districts), and the winners not to be first-past-the-post as in the past, but elected with a clear 50% plus majority, to make them truly representative of the people. This may well need two elections for an electorate, and be truly democratic.

The earnings of MPs should be reconsidered, giving them even a larger sum for attending parliament, and not any special payments for sitting on parliamentary committees. The current process of giving MPs special permits to import (mostly luxury) cars should cease forthwith, and arrangements should be made for them to travel in public transport (as many MPs did in the past), or use vehicles from a parliamentary pool; that too for parliamentary business and not take one’s children to school, wife shopping, or husband gaming.

There is much more to be considered and changed to make Parliament a true House of Democracy. This includes new laws to prohibit an MP elected from one political party to be free to cross over to another in the absence of a by-election. There must also be strict restrictions on giving jobs in parliament to the spouse of an MP, as well as cousins, nephews and nieces, as well as political catchers.

There must also be a public declaration of the income of an MP, and family members too. This is particularly necessary in the context of some of today’s MPs seeking many millions or large houses, to replace the houses that were destroyed in the 09 May violence in the country; it began with the Rajapaksa-led attacks on protesters near Temple Trees and at Galle Face Green.

Ranil-Rajapaksa’s High Security Zones have been exposed as anti-democratic thinking in the process of the current government. The judicial system too is showing weaknesses in thinking, when we see a prevailing President, not allowed to be legally challenged for major faults or even crimes committed securing the presidency.

Sri Lanka certainly needs an early general election. But we must ensure that such an election will be one of true democracy, and not one of a corrupt and anti-democratic system. Let the Veddah Chief’s call for a general election take us and our true political leaders to sow the true seeds of democracy in a cleaned out soil, and not in the soil massively tainted by hugely corrupt politics.

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